I just returned from Las Vegas and the Affiliate Summit West (which was phenomenal again – thanks to the founders Shawn and Missy and all of their staff!) – and actually was able to take a couple days vacation directly following in order to wind down and reflect on all the business that occurred during the week…
One of my first priorities was to listen to the keynote speech, as it had generated so much publicity and feedback – and I wanted to hear the complete speech for myself. Even though I am familiar with some speeches that Jason Calacanis had made in the past, I thought it important to listen before making any judgements.
So …. here are some thoughts:
1. Before you judge the speech by the snippets – listen to the whole thing. A lot of quotes have been re-distributed out of context, and posted as standalone lines with new meaning… So I encourage you to listen to the whole presentation before forming an opinion. It is worth the time – go here to listen:
2. I’d like to add my opinion on what affiliate marketing is into the ring as I don’t believe he addressed all facets of this industry – and I believe that most of the negative comments made during the speech aren’t applicable to the people with whom I work everyday.
The points he made are definitely spot-on regarding spam, thin sites, etc…. The reality is that we all already knew that. He referred to everyone as “you people”, “affiliate people”, “thin affiliate site people”, etc… but I don’t know too many people who were in attendance that fit into his grouping and labels.
As I said – his points regarding those sites are accurate. As Scott Jangro pointed out at http://www.jangro.com/a/2008/02/26/thank-you-jason-calacanis/ – it is certainly true that there are many internet marketers who are out there polluting the web, and making our jobs all much harder.
However, the people that I know who were at Affiliate Summit are building quality sites and communities and hate spam sites just as much as Jason does. He did mention that he was only referring to a smaller portion of the group in attendance – but honestly, I don’t know that he realizes how many sites utilize Affiliate Marketing as a true revenue channel – and I don’t believe he understands how broad the range of quality is out there. To his credit, Jason did (in my opinion) admit that he knows little about the industry that we have been defending since his speech – and asked for help in identifying what we all considered to be quality sites. His blog asks for sites here if you wish to participate: http://www.calacanis.com/2008/03/03/affiiate-marketing-done-right
Further, there is a significant difference between a site that intentionally “games” the system, and a site that one simply does not care for or like, etc … There are going to be large volumes of sites on the internet that aren’t necessarily the “best” or the “top 20” sites – but this is a POSITIVE product of the internet era. People going out and making sites that fit their eye, or fit their perspective is a key feature of the internet and one that shouldn’t be lumped in with “spamming”. Listen to this episode of “the show with ze frank” to get an idea of the power of “ugly freedom” – which is similar to what I am referring to here. http://www.zefrank.com/theshow/archives/2006/07/071406.html
(While you are at it … I highly recommend listening to a few more of “the show” … it is a really well done series which is both intellectual and entertaining. )
So … what I am saying is that sure, a spammy site with yellow bolded text that goes on for hours with keyword stuffing is certainly bad for the industry and bad for the internet …. But be careful not to judge every site you come across as “thin affiliate spam” just because you don’t like the site. There are going to be a zillion sites out there that are “ugly”, but they cannot be considered spam simply because the intent behind their creation is not to take advantage of the system – they are just people expressing themselves on the internet the way that they want to. This isn’t all bad – it is the internet – and in some ways it goes back to the basic internet principle of freedom. Unless I am reading Jason wrong, we disagree on this point – as he has mentioned that he only wants the “best” sites listed in his directory … and that users “don’t want diversity”. My opinion is different … I think that one of the reasons the internet has grown as fast as it has is the strong desire for users to see something different – something innovative. The ability to stop reading news from only 3 sources, and suddenly get it from 100, etc … If he were to ever ask my advice concerning Mahalo, I would urge him not to turn away from sites just because he doesn’t see them as “the best” – but to consider this point above.
I do agree with Scott Jangro that Jason’s keynote is important because it indicates a point of view and a perception of our industry from the outside. This is our challenge and everyone should be in on it. Scott, Haiko, Carolyn, Shawn, Missy, Wayne, Pat, Jeff, Scott, Lisa, Tim, Todd, Dan, Larry – just a short list of people who know who they are that have talked with me about this … we all know that there are bad apples out there that are causing our industry to look bad to the outside observer. I thank Jason for pointing this out to us because I think it is beneficial for everyone to know that despite what we see on the inside (positive growth, innovation, quality) … it is also important how other sectors of the overall internet industry view us. My reason for the list of people above is hopefully to let everyone know that there are definitely people who recognize the problem and have been working to try to correct it …
3. I disagree with Jason’s statement that “affiliate companies” (which we refer to as Networks) don’t “police stuff” in his words. Each of the major networks with which I am familiar has numerous folks dedicated to quality issues. SPAM, Adware, Malware … etc… these are all things that we continually stamp out on a regular basis. Daily. Hourly. We are not (“affiliate companies”) all stupid enough to allow our own well to be poisoned without putting up a fight against those who poison. As many people are aware, ShareASale operates in a “no-software” environment which would include things like Adware, Toolbars, Spyware, Malware, etc… We spend an enormous amount in terms of people power and money as well keeping our network clean. However – it isn’t just us. I get emails and phone calls from my friends in many of the “affiliate companies” who share info with me or ask for help in some cases because they are all trying to do the same thing. At the end of the day, they might have different definitions of exactly what “clean” is – but the point is that we are all doing much more than was suggested in the keynote speech.
Jason likely doesn’t think too much of our “affiliate company”, which is fine… but I would guess if the two of us got a chance to talk we would agree on quite a few things regarding the pollution of the internet, the fact that it needs to be cleaned, the power of clean information, and disclosure. Unfortunately, it is my opinion that he didn’t do too much research into what Affiliate Marketing is prior to giving his speech. I wish that he had contacted a few people in the industry for some information because the speech could have been even more powerful (and I do believe it was powerful) without being so off-putting if his use of examples was more accurate to the group in attendance.
4. As mentioned above… his points on thin sites and spam are entirely accurate. It is junk and we are all smarter than to get stuck making junk. I wholeheartedly agree with him that everyone should think big and ignore the fear of failure. These portions of his speech I found to be quite inspirational and are worth a listen. I don’t think everyone needs to be a Silicon Valley bigwig- nor does everyone want to – but you can all find your own balance while thinking big and setting forward thinking goals.
5. I struggled with the thought of whether or not to bring this up – but since it leads to my next big portion of the blog, I thought I shouldn’t leave it out.
I found it ironic that in a speech that was designed to point out internet marketers who were “poisoning the well” there could be such blatant disrespect for certain members of the audience and our industry in general. There is, in this one man’s opinion, no need for the language that was used which was off-putting for many people in attendance. I also found it extremely disrespectful that Jason could not even be bothered to learn the terms and titles that we have given ourselves. Referring to people as “you people”, “those affiliate companies”, “affiliate people” … these are disrespectful and in my opinion do just as much damage to the “internet well” as somebody creating a thin affiliate spam site. It comes down to respect in my opinion. Respect for the user, respect for the consumer, and respect for the people in the same room in which you were invited to speak. The lack of respect show for everyone in the room was detrimental to the speech and, in my opinion took away from many of the valuable messages that were in it.
That brings me to my overall point of “Marketing with Respect” … the title of the blog post. This is perhaps the furthest down the page where someone has ever finally gotten to the point.
This Affiliate Summit was unique for me, as it presented me with multiple occasions where I thought to myself … “Where is the respect in this industry?” Luckily there were dozens of wonderful moments to tide me over … but I’ve put together a little mini-list of things that I think we could all do to improve the overall stature of our industry.
1. Respect for the consumer.
I’ll echo Jason’s comments here and suggest that tricking the consumer is not a good long term plan. Be honest, upfront, and you will benefit not only yourself but everyone in the long run. What is a good example of this that does apply to Affiliate Marketing? Coupon sites that advertise non-existent coupons. Sorry to pick you out of a crowd, but this practice is deceptive, and extremely detrimental to our industry in general. The practice is used to rank highly on search engines for general search terms, and I understand that you can’t necessarily control where search engines rank sites – but you should be fully disclosing yourself that you have no actual coupon (if one doesn’t exist). Another example? Adware. As most of you know, ShareASale is an Adware free network and we spend a ton of time policing and ensuring quality and cleanliness. Adware is deceptive to the consumer – and the distribution tactics are even worse. Using children to download new “Smiley” packages, only to hide an install of something else is not a long term business strategy. Everyone knows who the major Adware players are out there (note: I am making a distinction between Adware and Loyaltyware) – and I call on all major Affiliate Networks, as well as each CPA network out there to start stepping up to the plate and stamping this stuff out. Thank you to Dan and Larry for being with me on this and sharing the info that they have. Also – if you have a strong desire to clean up your individual network but don’t know where to start, visit http://www.affiliatefairplay.com or contact me and I will get you in touch with the right people who can help you.
2. Respect for your industry
Competition is great – and welcomed in this industry because it signifies the growth that we all see. That being said, there is a respectful way to compete, and a disrespectful way to compete.
Example: Stop copying other user’s content and claiming it as your own. One of the best moments of Jason’s speech was when I heard a sentence that I know I have said myself nearly word for word. The internet is full of folks who believe that just because they can technically do something, that means that they can or should. Jason was spot on on this point. Just because you can write a spider that goes out and grabs content from somewhere else and aggregates it on your site for your own benefit is not an excuse to do it. Do you have users who post content on your site that belongs to someone else? Own up to it – those users are your responsibility. Creating a site that simply aggregates other people’s work (without their permission) is not a long term business plan and it is harmful to the industry.
While we are on the subject, robots.txt is not an excuse. If you run a spider, that spider is your responsibility. Be respectful. Be reasonable. Be ethical. Again, as Jason pointed out … just because you can technically do it doesn’t mean it is right.
3. Respect for individuals.
Going over any example here is just going to make this sound like a sermon – which is not my goal …. So I will keep this really simple and suggest that everyone simply think before they speak or act. Our industry it small – and news travels fast. Don’t put yourself behind the 8-ball or use message board anonymity to hide personal attacks or disrespectful comments. It doesn’t make our industry look good and can’t possibly help you in the long term. When at an event such as Affiliate Summit … think about your actions! Every one of the companies and individuals in attendance are making an investment with their involvement – be respectful of that and your long term success in this industry will be much easier to achieve.
A few “thank yous” to round out the post – I’d like to thank Shawn and Missy for putting on another wonderful conference, and for introducing our industry to an outsider’s perspective which has led to a wonderful discussion on where we should go. I’d also like to thank Jason Calacanis for putting himself out there and being a target because sometimes it is the only way to get others to think. I realize I’ve been critical of Jason at times on this blog but I certainly respect his work and his accomplishments and would welcome any chance I got to convince him that Affiliate Marketing is not entirely a big ugly spam world – but can instead add enormous value to a consumer experience.
If you missed the Affiliate Summit this time round, I think the amount of conversation going on afterwards should convince you that you shouldn’t miss the next one. See http://www.affiliatesummit.com and register for Boston in the Summer.